(This essay, published in Main Line Life on 9/18/08 is still surprisingly applicable to today’s climate…)
I recently had the opportunity to go on a short trip to a place where I would not have access to a television for several days. After I leaned over and hyperventilated into a paper bag for a few moments, I thought Yes, I can do this. It’s not even that I am that big of a TV watcher in my normal life. Normal life, that is, before this primary and election season. (Was there such a time? Truly?) Even though I have my office in my home I have never once turned on The View or The Today Show. I have never seen a soap opera in my entire life, and I don’t even know what time Oprah is on.
However, I do love politics. And, as much as I love knowing everything about the candidates and want to make an informed decision, right now I am on Election Overload. I never thought I would say this, but I’ve just about had enough of all of them – the candidates, the pundits, the spinners, the handlers, the talking heads, the anchors, the special commentators, the candidates’ families, jilted candidates from years past, jilted ex-wives, outright kooks, former Army buddies/college roommates, Hollywood activists, and the pollsters. Especially the pollsters.
I am especially horrified to be part of a demographic that the entire fate of the free world hinges upon – the dreaded fifty-five year-old white woman. The funny thing is, I used to be completely invisible, but now all the sudden everyone is talking about me! They want me, they really want me!
I have seen myself and my critical fifty-five year-old white woman views portrayed on news and commentary shows of all ilks. On some shows I am a sturdy blue-collar grandma with leanings to the religious right; on other channels I am a crazy-eyed Hillary supporter who will never, ever be able to move on with my life. I change to another news show and there I am again – now I am a June Cleaver middle class mom with kids in college and a part-time job, being squeezed out and tragically passed over by the lower and upper class.
The pollsters and pundits love this stuff, and what else do they have to do anyway, besides parse each demographic as though they really had any idea what people are going to do? (News flash – they don’t have a clue.)
You know you are suffering from chronic and debilitating Election Overload if you can barely even remember a time before this current nomination and election process. It seems like this cast of characters has been with us forever. I’m beginning to be sick of all of them. I feel that I know all their hopes and dreams and warts and weird family members. We’ve seen them trying to be hip and funny on The Daily Show and Letterman, dancing on Ellen, drinking shots in blue-collar bars, bowling, playing basketball, and eating a lot of pancakes and giant ice cream cones. And now with the addition of Sarah Palin we can add snowmobiling and aerial moose-hunting to the repertoire. Who would have thought?
Do you remember that day in the oh-so-distant past when our candidates agreed that they were not going to engage in a negative campaign? I stupidly believed at the time that both our main candidates were above that. Apparently not.
I believe there might be millions of Americans suffering from Election Overload. Maybe you, too, have engaged in some of the following behaviors, quite possibly at the same time: screaming at the television, laughing maniacally at someone’s obviously idiotic comment, gesticulating wildly as though the people on TV can see you, sobbing and pulling at your hair, sneering at the latest polls, cheering the latest polls, switching rapidly back and forth between news shows, wondering if Andrea Mitchell ever sleeps, critiquing hairstyles and tie choices of commentators. You are not alone.
I did leave my television set for those five days, and I lived to tell about it. (I may have sneaked a peek at the internet once a day.) And, guess what? When I got back everyone was still there. Nothing had changed.